By NATHAN GREGORY
It took two votes to become official, but for now, the emergency access gate at the west end of Douglas McArthur Drive is staying put.
The Starkville Board of Aldermen initially rejected a motion by Ward 6 Alderman Roy A. Perkins to override Mayor Parker Wiseman’s Oct. 4 veto of its Sept. 18 3-2 decision to remove the gate and maintain signage at the entrance indicating legal access for emergency personnel only. Ward 7 Alderman Henry Vaughn and Ward 2 Alderman Sandra Sistrunk were the two supporters of Perkins’ motion. The three votes in favor were two short of the five needed to overturn the mayor’s decision.
Perkins then asked Chief Administrative Officer Lynn Spruill, Director of Finance and City Clerk Taylor Adams and City Attorney Chris Latimer if any evidence existed in past board minutes or claims dockets that the board in place at the time the gate was originally installed in 2007 had authorized installing it in the first place. The findings of all three were consistent with one another: There was no verification in any past minutes or claims dockets that the board made such an order.
Citing general municipal state law, Perkins said the gate is not legal and proper and has to be taken down.
“If the board has not spoken, it has not happened, so it’s not in the minutes. The bottom line is (Latimer) has said it’s not legal and proper,” Perkins said. “He’s the hired attorney for the board. He gave us the advice that says it’s not in the minutes. It’s not in the claims docket. The gate is not legally there. So, the bottom line is the gate has to come down.”
Spruill said in her research she found relevant information as to how the gate was paid for when she found a 2007 memorandum from then-Mayor Dan Camp’s administrative assistant seeking guidance on which account the gate installation would be charged. In that memo, Spruill said, it was stated that the gate was part of a street improvement project that was authorized by then-Ward 1 Alderman Sumner Davis III. The street improvement funding was divided among all seven wards and Davis chose to use the funding in his ward to pay for the gate, she said. None of the street improvement projects appear in a past claims docket, she said, but there is receipt of a check that shows the gate installation was paid for.
A memorandum to the city dated August 15, 2007 with the subject line “Street Program ‘07, Gate at McArthur Dr(ive)” confirms the gate was part of street improvement funds with a recommended payment of $4,975 to Turner Shaw Fence Sales, Inc.
After Perkins yielded the floor, Ward 3 Eric Parker moved to make a board order to keep the gate at the end of the road.
Further discussion took place on the matter before the board took a vote on that motion, including Wiseman.
“It certainly is debatable whether board had the authority to do as it did in 2001, which was to come back without reacquiring the property and reopen for emergency access only the entrance to Douglas McArthur Drive, but the board did take that act, setting a policy of that being an emergency access entrance,” Wiseman said. “I can’t tell you why the record says what it does or doesn’t say, but I don’t think it is in dispute that in 2007 the city purchased the gate. What is baffling to me and seems to defy logic is if that was an action the board at that time was opposed to is how that gate sat there against the will of the board in plain sight for five full years.
“I would say the board has just had an opportunity to determine whether or not they wanted that gate to remain in place or not. When given an opportunity to decide whether the gate should be removed, the board of aldermen has just spoken through the minutes,” he added.
Perkins countered that there’s no authority for the mayor to speak for the board.
“The minutes (are) the sole voice. There is nothing in law in the state of Mississippi that says the mayor is the voice for the board,” Perkins said. “If that was the case, we would not need the board.”
After further discussion, Parker reminded the board of the motion on the floor.
“In light that the gate has been up for so many years, and no matter how we got to where we are today, I still do not understand the intensity of this particular situation and why it has all of a sudden come up,” Parker said.
After a second from Ward 1 Alderman Ben Carver, the board finally voted 4-3 in favor of keeping the gate up. Ward 4 Alderman Richard Corey and Ward 5 Alderman Jeremiah Dumas voted with Parker and Carver. Sistrunk, Perkins and Vaughn opposed.
Information on additional action the board took Tuesday will be provided in Thursday’s edition of Starkville Daily News.